Although I usually blog about IBD, today I'd like to spend a little time focusing on Irritable Bowel Syndrome. After all, it is IBS Awareness month. I know many people are using this opportunity to share their story but what I'd like to make people aware of is making sure they are receiving the proper diagnosis. The hashtag #notjustIBS aims to demonstrate just how debilitating the syndrome can be and how often people say it's 'just' IBS in order to diminish it. This can be extremely frustrating to sufferers but I feel doctors also use the 'just IBS' label to diagnose patients without doing any proper tests; leaving patients confused and unsure. If this is you, it's important to rule things out so keep on reading to make sure you're able to feel confident in your diagnosis.
Could it be....
Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Inflammatory bowel disease is one of the most commonly linked diseases to IBS. Of course, unlike IBS, IBD is relatively rare so chances are you won't have it- but since symptoms are so similar it's vital it is ruled out. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (crohn's and ulcerative colitis) can only be diagnosed by colonoscopy and MRI; although many doctors will simply offer a blood test this only measures inflammatory markers in the body. While this can give clues of IBD, many patients (this writer included) can receive normal blood results and still have IBD. Therefore, if you suspect this is a possibility, it is important you request a colonscopy; or at the very least- a faecel calproctein test (which measures inflammation in the blood),
2. Fructose Malabsorption. Many patients find following a low FODMAP diet helps ease symptoms (check out the Gut Health Empire Facebook group for more info and support) as they may not be able to properly break down certain sugars. You can also be tested for fructose malabsorption to confirm this is the cause (availability varies so you may have to go private to do this.
3. Coeliacs Disease. Scary fact: only 24% of coeliac patients in the UK have been diagnosed. Meaning there's many more out there. The reason for this is that coeliacs disease is often misunderstood and again symptoms are very similar to IBS.
Doctors can easily offer a blood test but it is vital you are eating gluten when tested to ensure accuracy. An endoscopy can also help confirm coeliacs disease too. Note, this is not the same as gluten-intolerance: many IBS patients may find they have an intolerance to gluten but this does not mean they have coeliacs disease. You can read more about this in the gluten free section of my blog.
4. Lactose Intolerance As I mentioned on my post on dairy intolerances many people with IBS find it difficult to break down milk particles in the gut. However, you may also be lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance occurs when the body cannot break down sugars from milk and causes diarrhea. This can be diagnosed by a hydrogen breath test to see if lactose is fermenting in your gut.
5. Bacterial Imbalance If your IBS began after a bout of gastroenteritis, food poisoning, a heavy dose of antibiotics or a holiday abroad- it could be worth exploring your gut bacteria balance. Studies show that when the bacterial balance is altered, it can be really hard to get things back on track. This blog about probiotics can give you some tips on how to begin looking at your gut health.
6. Anxiety. On the surface, my suggestion that it could be anxiety could be considered rude; after all we've all heard that doctor say it could be 'stress'. However, anxiety is linked to IBS in many ways. Firstly, anxiety can cause things like stomach cramps and diarrhea since the natural reaction when the body is stressed is to put physical stress on the body. However, did you know that 80% of the immune system is in the gut- therefore there is a huge gut/brain connection. In fact, it's often called the second brain! If you are finding your IBS in making you anxious your not alone. Vitamin B is made in the gut and therefore those with gut issues are often deficient in- since the body can't make it properly. What's the symptoms of vitamin B deficiency? Fatigue and anxiety. Therefore it's worth considering whether you need a vitamin b supplement (more info on this post on gut health supplements)
I hope this post has given you a better idea of the other gut health issues that exist outside and alongside IBS. It is great that more people are speaking out and raising awareness of IBS; let's make sure together that IBS isn't just a label doled out doctors but a recognized condition that is diagnosed by properly excluding other causes. After all, how can we raise awareness of something that even the medical profession sometimes fails to understand?
Jenna Farmer blogs about gut health over at www.abalancedbelly.co.uk